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The accumulated damage caused to the fruit industry in the north due to the halt of fruit picking in the region has reached NIS 60 million, the secretary of the fruit growers association, Giora Sela, said Monday.

With each day that goes by, he said, the damage increases by millions more.

Sela called for the government to immediately declare a state of emergency in the north, under which the growers will be eligible for compensation for lost crops.

Sela added that unless picking resumes, fruit distribution in the fall and winter would also be seriously hurt.

Member of the fruit growers association secretariat, Yaron Belchsan, a Ramot Naftali resident, has also warned that the fruit industry in the north is on the verge of catastrophe.

"We are already accustomed to having the war end, the dust settle and the ministers, Knesset members and bureaucrats disappear. The farmers are then left with the debt and despairing bureaucracy," he said.

Representatives from the Finance Ministry, the employers and the workers held discussions Sunday night. An initial agreement was reached to extend the confrontation line beyond the current nine kilometers from the border.

The decision means that more businesses - as far south Haifa, Afula and elsewhere - could be eligible for compensation from the state.

The Finance Ministry is facing a difficult dilemma, said Avi Eltar, former legal advisor to the Income Tax Commission.

"One million people live in the north. If each is paid a monthly salary equal to the average salary in the market, which is over NIS 7,000, we will reach NIS 3.5 billion."

The law does not account for workers who miss working days due to the security situation, except for several regions defined within the confrontation line. The employer is not required to pay these workers' salaries.

Until a state of emergency is declared, factories and businesses hurt by the situation are not reimbursed, including compensation for any loss of potential revenue.

Residents in the north cope with mixed messages from the government these days. On the one hand, they must keep to bomb shelters and protected areas, and on the other no official announcement of a state of emergency has been called, with the full financial implications it carries.